The NBA has the Lakers, MLB has the Yankees, the NCAA has the Fighting Irish, and the NHL has the Pittsburgh Penguins.
The Penguins aren’t placed on this list because of how hated they are throughout North America, alone. Rather, they are placed on this list because of their polarizing nature.
All Pittsburgh fans believe the Penguins are the most hated team in the NHL and they could be right. After all, the internet is full of comments from people saying Sidney (or Cindy) Crosby is a baby, Matt Cooke is a dirty player, and Mario Lemieux is a hypocrite. Let’s not forget all the times Crosby barked at the referees in seasons’ past, or Cooke’s vicious elbow-to-head contact on several opponents before his “reformation” in 2012 to help fuel the fire.
You are also likely to find several slurs being used against commissioner Gary Bettman and the referees for “fixing” the games so the Penguins always win. It seems if the Penguins win a game, the referees and the league are the reason why.
That’s always my favorite.
The fact is, the Penguins have the top two players in the world and, by far, the most talented team in the NHL on paper. That, alone, will get you one-way ticket to “Haterville”.
But what people in Pittsburgh may not realize is that they have more fans than they think.
First off, with hockey growing exponentially around the world -mainly in Europe- thousands of people are turning on the NHL to get into the sport. When they look at these playoffs, they see jerseys featuring the skating penguins, raising its arms in celebration. Not only is Pittsburgh talented, but they fill the net, making the sport exciting to watch. Plus, people cheer for a winner when they don’t have a diehard rooting interest for a specific team.
If we look a little closer to home, say on the Western Hemisphere, we’ll see several friends North of the border who are rooting for the Penguins to win the Cup. Those fans, particularly located in Alberta, have traded in Red and Black for Black and Vegas Gold. Their franchise player, Jarome Iginla, was traded to Pittsburgh for a chance to raise the Stanley Cup for the first time in a hall of fame career. Those same fans want Iginla to raise the Cup because he’s earned that right after captaining the Flames for 16 and a half seasons.
Speaking of captains, how about Brenden Morrow? Morrow was brought in about a week before Iginla, having been traded from Dallas where he spent the first 14 years of his career. In 2006, the Stars asked former captain Mike Modano to relinquish his captaincy as a means to reward Morrow for his dedication and leadership to the team.
The Stars were eliminated from playoff contention during the regular season, and with one Pacific division rival guaranteed to make the Western Conference finals, who do you think they’re rooting for? The Red Wings? Blackhawks?
And then there is Canada, itself. A lot of Canadians have polarizing views on Sidney Crosby. While some hate him, others love him. In the same vein, most Canadians love Jarome Iginla and appreciate the hard work Brenden Morrow has done in Dallas. Above everything else, the two have three Olympic Gold Medals, something that Canada takes very seriously every four years.
Ray Shero brought in great role players with enough skill to keep up with the young talent already in place. But he also brought in, particularly with Morrow and Iginla, natural leaders and fan favorites from other franchises. While some fans see the trades as making an already hated team even more hated, others will see it as an opportunity to live, almost vicariously, through their favorite player.